A Change in Us, A Change in Parenting

Life has been a whirlwind the last two years...so much growth and so much change in our life. Grace and the Gospel is the driving force in ways we've never experienced before. We are seeing more and more how the Gospel is for every single aspect of our life, not just the day of our salvation. One area of focus, among many, that has changed a lot is our parenting.

Many Christian circles focus heavily on "well-behaved children." It is often a status symbol, a parent ranking system, an indicator of success or failure on the parents part. This was totally me. I know that my children cannot be good on their own, and that their own goodness is like filthy rags to God, and that the only goodness that counts is Jesus' goodness. But I'm realizing more and more that I don't always parent this way. That's what I believe, but I parent like the "law" (rules, and good behavior) will save them.

 So through much work in our hearts by the Holy Spirit in our personal lives, we have begun to forge a new road in our parenting- one that is based on Jesus and the Gospel. In our earlier years of parenting (I know, it's only been a whopping 4 years so far), we were much more focused on the outward obedience and training aspect. Part of that is the age...not many heart conversations happen with your 18 month old as they are simply learning to listen to your voice and obey, and that early training is vital for many reasons. So don't get me wrong, children need to obey and they need to obey immediately. They need to understand the right authority in their life. We don't disagree with this one bit. But when the sole purpose of discipline is to simply "get them to obey," we have missed the mark in ways that may affect our children for the rest of their lives.
We have been learning so much about the law and grace, and it has changed a lot of our parenting: how we talk about the Bible, how we correct, how we instruct, and the goals we have as parents. Here are the two kinds of parenting we've been discussing...working out of the law driven parenting, and moving into the grace driven parenting. We by NO MEANS have this figured out. Most days we are fumbling around for words to the Gospel centered instruction, and other days, we are living our own lives out of the law, which makes us unable to parent out of grace. We fail daily, and we fumble around, but we also see glimpses of the beauty of the Gospel making its way into the heart of our family. We so do not have this together, so please do not take our passion for these truths as an assumption that we have it altogether and know exactly what we are doing. Because we don't! :)

(Side note: the majority of these ideas, thoughts, and some direct quotations come from my favorite parenting book Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick. My words and descriptions are interwoven with the author's. To direct quote was nearly impossible bc every other sentence I added some things, took some things out, etc. But the major ideas are hers. I've just put them into two categories of law driven parenting and grace driven parenting). 

Law Driven Parenting
  • Has the goal of well-behaved children
  • Reads the Bible as a moral codebook and simply sees a lot of lists that say "do this" and a lot of lists that say "don't do that." 
  • Transforms the stories of the Bible into moral stories as a way to compel obedience.
  • Takes lists in the Bible out of context such as the fruit of the spirit, and make a plan, a system of rewards and consequences to get our children to model gentleness, kindness, patience, love, etc. 
  • We require (not instruct, train, and teach), but require religious obedience. "You must close your eyes and bow your head because we are praying." "You will stand up and sing the songs during worship at church." We panic thinking that if we can just get them to look right on the outside, it will somehow seep into their hearts and change them. 
  • Reward systems for good behavior, and a "demerit" system for bad behavior
  • Praise for obedience and scolding for disobedience
  • Concerned with how our children look and what people will think of them and us
  • Sees obedience and conformity to Christian rules as the goal of parenting
  • Has an unbiblical and unhealthy view of their role as a parent. Good parenting in=good children out. They often feel like their child's salvation is directly tied to their ability to be consistent and faithful. 
Grace Driven Parenting
  • The stories of the Bible are not for teaching moral lessons, but are about God's grace through Jesus and the Gospel.
  • The Bible is about God's mercy and his ability to save souls, and use us even when we disobey. It's not about our obedience.
  • Directs them to their need for Jesus and thankfulness to God. 
    • When they fail to obey, instead of simply employing harsh consequences to "get them to obey," we give them the Gospel. "We tell them that no matter what, they cannot keep God's law and that Jesus kept it perfectly for them. And we thank God that their relationship with him isn't built on their obedience, but on Jesus' obedience."
    • "When they do obey, (if the child is a Christian) you thank God because they were able to do so because Jesus has given them His Holy Spirit." 
    • "When they do obey, (and they are not a Christian) we remind them that God is more powerful than sin and is strong enough to make us want to do the right thing."
    • This does not mean that there aren't consequences. But the motivation is different, the conversation is different, and the desired outcome is different. 
  • Trains children in religious obedience- grace driven parenting teaches children about the Bible, teaches them about God and His works, prays with them, and brings them to church. But it does not force outward conformity to religious behaviors (such as praying, singing, etc), which just teaches them that the actions of Christianity (what's on the outside) is what matters. Grace driven parenting "does not assume outward conformity to religious exercises as proof of being a Christian." 
  • Instead of praise for their obedience and goodness, we praise God's goodness. "I noticed you shared your toys! I'm so thankful for God's working in your life that way. I know that neither of us would ever do anything kind if God wasn't helping us." This praises the only right goodness- the goodness of Jesus- and reinforces the fact that we have no goodness on our own (which is the Gospel)! It's literally ALL by God's grace and goodness to us.
  • Has a Biblical and healthy view of their role as a parent. That they love, nurture, train, and discipline with faith in the Lord's ability to transform hearts, NOT in their ability to be consistent or faithful. 
  • The goal of parenting is that "their children are drawn by the Holy Spirit to put their faith in the goodness of Jesus." It's not a focus on becoming good, or even on becoming a "better, "more holy" Christian.
These are the two kinds of parenting we are working through....working out of one and into the other. Although it seems a bit "vague," grace driven parenting is specific and intentional and I'll hopefully be able to share what we are learning about religious obedience, consequences, teaching the Bible in a Gospel centered way, and others. It's not as "vague" as it sounds. Remember, as fallen, sinful humans, our default is our own righteousness...our default is to desire to have some glory in our goodness. So we are comfortable with rules and law driven parenting because it provides a very structured system of do's and don't's. It's "easy" to follow and often black and white. But its result is inherently evil because it attempts to deny our need for a Savior, and puts us on the throne of our own glory. The law can't make us good, and it can't make our children good either. Only Jesus and His grace can do that.


hayley morgan said...

rachel! jessica thompson, co-author with her mom Elyse, is speaking at Influence this year! :)

Mandi said...

Really really great and helpful. Thank you for sharing this. Planning to print it off and stick it in my journal to remind myself :)

Jon said...

Our hearts are always active, especially in parenting. What is more important than our children? But, our desires (both good and bad) and always at work in our hearts. It is a good desire to want obedient children. Life goes better for them. But it's an "inordinate desire" when our children's disobedience causes us to be angry and discipline with contempt in our hearts. All parents do this. The mode of discipline is not as much the issue as is the heart that is performing the discipline and instruction. I find it sad in my own life that I have disciplined because my own heart idols of quiet, order, and comfort were disrupted. I get angry and then speak harshly, not humbly. I discipline out of convenience to me or to protect my reputation (huge idol!) in front of others. But I miss the opportunity to shepherd my son or daughter's heart. So much idolatry is bound up in parenting. It's crazy! So much contempt and rebellion is built in the hearts of children because they are parented by a mix of good desires and their parents' idolatry of reputation, convenience, etc. The confusion creates a desire to rebel or disconnect.

Because idolatry is bound up in parenting i.e. a mother or father's identity or worth is at stake in some sense, it tends to skew the reality of what happened. For example, "My kids never acted like that." Maybe, but probably not the case. Idols cause people to look at reality in a skewed manner. All parents and former parents are prone to self-congratulation through comparison. Reality is, we are all sub-par, but getting better as we personally understand grace and live humbly.

When folks always use themselves as positive examples of parenting (or marriage), my B.S. meter explodes! They are either out-right lying or are delusional.